Within the second half of the eighth episode of FX’s expansion on the concepts created by the Coen brothers for their 1996 film Fargo, the show’s writer, Noah Hawley, threw viewers for a loop by abruptly jumping the story ahead one year.
Even though the not-truthful-at-all disclaimer that opens every episode still says these “true events” are meant to be taking place in 2006 at the head of the ninth episode, we should be in 2007 by now… And for the first 10 minutes or so of this episode, Hawley continues to mess with our heads.
One year after the events that took place in the first seven and a half episodes, Billy Bob Thornton’s hitman character Lorne Malvo is somehow an established dentist, living in a nice house, telling “aw shucks” regular guy stories, hanging out with a fellow dentist played by Coen regular Stephen Root, dropping his own catchphrase into interactions (“Aces!”), and getting engaged to his dental assistant. My mind was boggled.
Was Malvo always a dentist on the side? Is this guy even Lorne Malvo? I was quite intrigued and confused… and then the reality of the situation started to become clear during a conversation with Root’s character. And when Malvo relaxes at night by kicking back and listening to recordings he’s made of panicked people whose lives he has destroyed, it was made certain that this is the same Lorne Malvo as ever, no matter what sort of facade he’s putting on.
Nearly every terrible thing that has happened in this series up to this point spun out from a chance encounter Malvo had with Bemidji, Minnesota-based insurance salesman Lester Nygaard in the first episode, and when these two chance across each other again in Las Vegas, more terrible things begin happening.
While the law enforcement agents who have been unable to catch Malvo and Lester in their crimes begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel, the criminals themselves become embroiled in a game of cat and mouse… A deadly game that brings Malvo back to Bemidji.
Malvo’s return allows for the standout scene of this particular episode, in which he stops by the diner run by local officer Molly Solverson’s former state cop father Lou, played by Keith Carradine. Lou has always come off as a great, wise, kindhearted guy with a strong sense of right and wrong, he is a figure of pure goodness within this show. Meanwhile, Malvo is so deeply corrupt and evil that viewers have speculated that he could be the devil himself – eating the apple pie Lou serves to him, he even says it’s the best he’s had since the Garden of Eden.
Lou and Malvo have a five minute exchange of dialogue in this episode, good and evil having a chat, and it is a masterpiece of tension. The music, the cutaways to Molly driving to the diner that make us wonder if she’s going to arrive there to find her father murdered, the way the characters both seem to suspect each other of something… Malvo might believe that Lou has the ability to see through him, Lou can certainly tell that Malvo is a very strange person. Malvo tries to get information out of Lou, Lou doesn’t give it up, instead telling a story about a case he once worked. We expect one or the other to draw a gun at any second, and we know that if Malvo is the one who draws, he’s not going to hesitate to shoot Lou and remove this representative of goodness from the world. While Thornton and Carradine were putting on a display of fantastic acting, I was on the edge of my seat.
That’s indicative of how powerful of a show Fargo is, how engrossing its story and characters are, the wonderful work Hawley has done delving into this world the Coens set up, and how perfectly executed all of it is. Only one episode remains, and although I’m excited to see how everything gets wrapped up, it’s also going to be bittersweet to see the show ending. I have thoroughly enjoyed this journey back through Fargo every step of the way.